Iraqi political, religious leaders meet in bid to curb violence

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Iraq’s top political and religious figures came together on Saturday in a meeting that has been called for since late 2011, but continually delayed, in an attempt to curb rising violence that killed more than 1,000 people in May.

The meeting was held at the home of Ammar al-Hakim, head of the Shiite political party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), in Baghdad.

On May 22, Hakim urged Iraqi leaders to meet and put forward a unified vision against growing terrorism in the country.

Al Arabiya correspondent said the meeting was the first of its kind since two years and was considered to be a major leap forward as the top two political rivals, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, were seen embracing each other, symbolizing an end to a long-standoff between them.

Nujaifi, who is a Sunni, has long been at odds with Shiite Maliki. He has previously called for the current government to resign and be replaced by a smaller one made up of independent members who cannot stand in the next elections.

The Iraqi leaders did not take any decisions but agreed to hold other meetings.

“The situation in Iraq was very difficult, and on the edge of collapsing,” Nujaifi was quoted by AFP as saying during a meeting with journalists, adding that the country on the verge of “civil war.”

“This meeting was very important, and we must stabilize the situation,” he said.

U.N. envoy Martin Kobler has warned that “systemic violence is ready to explode at any moment” if they do not resolve their disagreements.

Long-running disputes between top politicians have paralyzed Iraq’s government, and been linked by analysts and officials to increases in violence.

Meanwhile, some main political figures didn’t attend the meeting.

Muqtada Al-Sadr, an influential Shiite religious figure and head of the Sadrist Movement, was not in the gathering.

Sadr, however, said that it was an “honorable” meeting but needed to be more serious to produce beneficial decisions to the Iraqi people.

Head of the Iraqiya List Ayad Allawi didn’t attend. In the 2010 elections, Allawi won against Maliki by two seats, but the latter was declared prime minister after he formed a wider coalition with other Shiite parties.

Masoud Barzani, President of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, wasn’t in the meeting either.

The wave of violence comes about 18 months after the last American troops left Iraq, which is neither secure nor stable more than a decade after the U.S.-led invasion of the country.

An AFP count, based on security and medical sources, put May’s toll at 614 people killed and 1,550 wounded, while data from government ministries showed 681 had died and 1,097 were wounded.

The U.N. gave a significantly higher toll of 1,045 killed and 2,397 wounded.

Meanwhile, President Jalal Talabani’s doctor said the health of the veteran Kurdish leader, who has been receiving treatment for a stroke in Germany since December, was improving and he would be able to fulfill his official duties upon his return to the country.

The 79-year-old’s condition has major political implications, as Talabani has played a prominent role in seeking reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and Kurds and Arabs.

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